Dark Shadows shines a light on writing tips

We saw Dark Shadows last night. Oh my goodness. Michelle Pfeiffer was wonderful, the settings and particularly the porcelain/egg shell witch stuff were delightful, but over all: a train wreck. Still, in an effort to get my money’s worth, I came away with some notes, assembled quickly here (there are spoilers, but I don’t see how anything can spoil the movie more than watching it).


1. Pick you story.

Dark Shadows ran as a daily serial for how long? So lots of material to sift through. <I tried to watch the 1990s remake recently: it hasn’t travelled well.> What to include? How about not everything? Save the werewolf girl for later, or at least foreshadow her inner hairiness, for instance. No, when presented with so many story ideas, best to pick just one, and add a subplot or two, but make sure you have that narrative drive from beginning to end. So it might be a love story or a love gone wrong/revenge story; it might be a family drama; it might be a vampire trying to deal with society 200 years later; it might be how a vampire helps a boy and his dead mother find a happy ending. It’s probably not all of those things at once.


2. Pick your tone.

So many ways to approach such material… a once wealthy family brought under by a scheming, vengeful witch, and then along comes a vampire from the past to help put things right. Is this a comedy? A kitsch retro bit of fun pie? Is it a horror story, a melodrama, a thriller? Pick one, leaven it with another, and work it, baby. But don’t bounce between them willy nilly, and for pity’s sake don’t suck your few slightly funny gags dry. Alice Cooper’s a girl’s name. Oh my. A family that has the big balls. Oh dear.


3. Characterisation is key.

It’s about the people, innit. So you have a cool cast of characters, each with their own thang, and then you give a glimpse of each and forget about them. Instant or reincarnated love? Two people in one house who believe in ghosts? Two hundreds years of obsessive love? Hm, somewhere along the line, they need to meet. But most of all, perhaps, that hero needs to be heroic, not a cad; or if he is a cad, he needs to realise it. But our vampire hero treats the help wrong and, on this occasion, he picked the wrong gal to use and discard, and hell hath no fury, right? What exquisite blackmail it is to have to make love to the pretty witch — tell me again why she still loves the cad? As Depp’s Barnabas admits, he’s not a gentleman.


4. Story that works for a greater whole.

So you kill the psychologist and you catch the bad dad thieving and there will be ramifications. Won’t there? You kill a bunch of folks and there will be ramifications … won’t there? History repeats with the torch-wielding mob baying for your blood and — they go home when told to. No, when the hero suffers a setback, it has to have an impact. The worst thing happens and it means something, damnit; it doesn’t get swept under the carpet.


5. Make sure your theme is up to date.

So this is probably being overly harsh, but damn.. Dark Shadows seems to have embodied those far simpler times when those with money could get away with anything. Murder is fine as long as the family’s fortunes and social standing is upheld. The staff should know their place and even the most accomplished, self-made witch with 200 years of achievement under her cauldron just wants to be loved.


A case study of how to do it: after we got home, we had a palate-cleansing viewing of The Addams Family movie. Now that’s kooky.

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Tim Burton’s nightmare

johnny depp in edward scissorhands

Note to self: do not — DO NOT — leave it until the last minute to visit a best-selling exhibition.

I was mightily impressed by the Tim Burton exhibition at Melbourne’s ACMI, even if I could only see maybe half of it through the barely moving wall of heads and shoulders. There were LOTS of the gothically inclined directors drawings, both artistic and conceptual, dating back to his childhood, a stint with Disney, and of course, his famous work — Edward Scissorhands, A Nightmare Before Christmas, Sleepy Hollow, a touch of Sweeney Todd, to name some of my favourites.

In fact the exhibition was heavy on the artwork, showing his preoccupation with distorted perspective, particularly with the human form, body modification, zany critters, the lonely and the outsider, a touch of disfunctional family and the opposites that attract. Particularly eye-catching was a display of costumes featuring The Mad Hatter’s exquisite outfit from Alice in Wonderland, Catwoman’s slinky bodysuit from Batman (the Batmobile was parked in the foyer!) and, of course, Edward’s striking leather and scissor gloves. Add some puppets and sculptures and audio-visuals and you have a comprehensive round-up of the man’s career.

The audio tour (a mere $5, taking the price of admission to only a very reasonable $24) definitely value-added, with commentary from curators and Burton himself about the themes of his work.

And how great was it to see and hear Vincent Price in short early films being screened as part of the exhibit: a bizarre Hansel and Gretel with edible architecture and the touching stop-motion Vincent.

I’m sorry I didn’t take the opportunity to see the exhibit at a more relaxed time, but I’m glad I went, if only to appreciate the sheer magnitude of Burton’s creativity and imagination.

Zola Jesus — what happens when you listen to too much Siouxsie Sioux!

Oh nom, nom, nom… and how good is the clip from Future Primitive Films? Find out more about Zola at her MySpace. There’s more discordance in store! (Good gracious, check out her version of Jefferson Airplane’s Somebody to Love for starters … yipes!)

And in other recent net musical explorations to raise an eyebrow if not an ear:

  • Iron Maiden blast off to the Final Frontier ahead of a new album!
  • Girls put out, ahem, two versions of their spunky Lust For Life (no Iggy was harmed in the making of this tune) — one for work and one for home. Meh.

  • A comfortable little noodle is offered by English outfit XX (or is that xx?) with a touch of unassuming synth. Mostly harmless?

  • And finally,Brisbane plays host to this really cool film clip for a catchy Megan Washington pop song (with an uber-cool support cast!)

    Meanwhile, still waiting for those Concrete Blonde Australian tour tix to go on sale… not that I’m impatient or anything, no not me!

    Footnote: I only found out today that Tim Burton (now on show in Melbourne, will get there I swear!) is teaming up with Johnny Depp to shoot a new Dark Shadows. Could be/should be wicked cool! (If you’re asking wassit, check out the original soapie and the remake with Ben Cross. Neither of which should be confused with Australia’s Dark Shadows, a rockin’ Sydney band!)

  • Alice in Underland, er, Wonderland

    johnny depp as mad hatter in Alice in Wonderland

    First impressions of Tim Burton’s addition to the Alice in Wonderland canon: it’s pretty darn cool.

    A few of us saw it in 3D and agreed the extra dimension was pretty much overkill and at times a little distracting, except for the absolutely stunning end credits.

    I have studiously ignored reviews and comments about the movie — I usually do when I know I want to see something, and I’ve managed to stay blissfully ignorant, except for a few comments about the film not being particularly well received (critically), and Johnny Depp’s portrayal of the Mad Hatter being panned.

    This isn’t Alice in Wonderland as I remember it, but I’m not a purist; I don’t have much affection for the original story or film versions since. It’s just a fine yarn to me, and so Burton’s monkeying around with it hasn’t raised my hackles. But I can see why it might rub some up the wrong way.

    I enjoyed Depp’s very edgy Hatter, and the “almost 20” Alice played with suitable innocuousness by Mia Wasikowska, and Helena Bonham Carter (the bobble-headed Red Queen) is always a delight. The critters were fine, Alan Rickman adding a lovely dourness to the grub, and the Cheshire cat’s coming and going was a lot of fun.

    Burton seems to have had a foot in two camps, unable to completely let go his love of the Gothic (eg the whimsical White Queen’s necromantic tendencies (played sweetly by Anne Hathaway)), but still conforming to the fact that this was a Disney film; I’m not sure it straddles both audiences well.

    But there are some absolutely gorgeous “sets”: twisted bare trees, soft light through dust and fog, a ruined chess-set battlefield and final battle sequence between a dragon-like Jabberwocky and Alice that was just lovely (the scene reminded me a lot of a striking piece of fantasy art by the wonderful Clyde Caldwell).

    I don’t think I needed to see Alice in 3D and I don’t think it’s something I need on my shelf — it skated a little thin for my liking — but I enjoyed it for its darkly tinted escapism, which sometimes is just the ticket.

    Here’s a trailer.

    Also, in the theatre there was a poster for a new Tron movie: not a remake, but a sequel, I’m told. Here’s a trailer for that: it looks flash and the sound, even through my wee PC speakers, sounded pretty hot.